In his book Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy, William Worden suggested that there are four tasks of mourning that must be carried out for "the process of mourning to be completed" and life to get back on balance. While I like aspects of this model, I disagree that we ever complete the process of mourning, and the idea of tasks to be ticked off feels like a lot of additional pressure.
The tasks are:
1. Accept the reality of the loss
Death, especially a sudden death, leaves us reeling. We can't believe that they are gone. Accepting the reality isn't just knowing the truth of the bereavement, it's understanding that everything has changed. For me, the funeral was an important part of this.
2. Work through the pain of grief
Grief is different for everyone. We move from a raw, savage pain to a deeper, more visceral grief, which then shifts to something we can survive with. The time this takes is also different for everyone – weeks, months, even years. A wonderful friend of mine talks about 'sitting in' the waves of grief and letting them wash over you – this helped me to process the pain.
3. Adjust to an environment where the person is missing
For some time after Tim died, I would turn around and expect to see him, especially when the door downstairs made a characteristic little rattle. Adjusting to the environment where they are not here isn't just missing their physical presence. It's missing their role in your life. Losing a partner, particularly losing a partner young, takes away the past we shared with them, the present we shared with them, and the future we hoped to share with them.
4. Find an enduring connection with the person who has gone while embarking on a new life
However much our lives change post loss, we keep the people we lose as part of us. This is why I don't talk about moving on, I talk about moving forward (and this amazing talk by Laura McInerny explains more). Keeping a connection with Tim includes talking about him, having his photo up, and raising a glass to him on his birthday, our wedding anniversary and the anniversary of the day he died.
I was widowed at 50 when Tim, who I expected would be my happy-ever-after following a marriage break-up, died suddenly from heart failure linked to his type 2 diabetes. Though we'd known each other since our early 20s, we'd been married less than ten years.